The Elephant Whisperers has become the first Indian title to win an Oscar for Documentary Short Subject. More details are awaited.
Kartiki Gonsalves’ film, which has been shortlisted for the 95th Academy Award in the Documentary Short Film category, opens with a charming bit of narrative trickery. The setting is Tamil Nadu’s Theppakadu Elephant Camp, one of the oldest in Asia, and the man in the frame is Bomman, an inhabitant of the indigenous Kattuanayakan tribe (meaning “king of the jungle”).
Read about the film: Elephant Whisperers is a triumph of empathy
The camera trails him as he goes about with his day. We see him finish his morning prayers and arrive somewhere. Standing outside, he enquires in a soothing tone if his dear one has slept well. As if he is talking to his child. The focus is now on his face as an elephant steps out. His expression does not betray any surprise. If anything, his looks soften as he nestles his head on the animal’s trunk. This image of a man and an animal — of frailty and strength— locked together in harmonious affection forms the crux of the documentary.
Unfolding entirely in India’s Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, the documentary follows two caregivers entrusted with the task of looking after abandoned wild elephants. Bomman and Bellie tend to Raghu. They bathe the animal, and feed him. They arrange for his food and boil his milk. It is not difficult to infer that Bomman and Bellie have dedicated their lives to the well-being of the animal.